Speech and Language Skills: The Adolescent Years
One of the crucial areas of parenting is helping your children develop speech and language skills. How can parents facilitate growth in their teenagers?
Adolescents seem to be consistently misunderstood, especially in the areas of speech and language. This problem of communication is partially due to parents’ lack of understanding of what is happening to the brain in these formative ages.
During adolescence, the brain is changing rapidly and does not become fully developed until the late teens and early twenties. During this time, the area of the brain governing emotions (amygdala reactions) is maturing faster than the area of the brain governing decision-making and logic (prefrontal cortex reflections). This mismatched development often results in emotions being the primary motivator for decisions and behavior—not logic.
Adolescents are not yet adults. They still need help and guidance—especially in making right decisions and processing information appropriately. Though this isn’t an excuse for bad behavior, understanding this can help parents better manage and understand their teenage children. But more importantly, it underscores the fact that adolescents are not yet adults. They still need help and guidance—especially in making right decisions and processing information appropriately.
The Bible teaches that young people can make good decisions and choose to follow God in their youth: “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother” (Proverbs 10:1; 15:20).
Here are three things parents can do to help their teenagers through these years:
1. Guide them in taking care of their bodies. Teenagers need to understand the consequences of bad health habits that can do significant damage to their bodies. Many times the consequences of the abuse of alcohol, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and overindulgence in video games or television are not clearly understood by teens.
When the brain is experiencing so much change and development, it is essential to develop connections, not kill them through alcohol abuse and staring at a screen for hours. Brain connections can be strengthened through exercise and adequate sleep.
2. Make time for conversations, discussions and questioning. It can be challenging for adolescents to make sense of all the information they are forced to process during these years. Remember, their emotions often win over logic, so parents should try to be calm and understanding when discussing things.
Be flexible and eat meals together, allowing and encouraging open and challenging discussion topics. Remember, if they don’t listen and talk with you about their problems, they will try to solve issues themselves or with the guidance of their peers. Parents should do all they can to encourage an atmosphere of openness between themselves and their teenagers to discuss what is on their mind.
3. Help them in dealing with emotions and social interactions. Both of these areas are critical in an adolescent’s learning of speech and language. If they are going through turbulent waves of each of these, their development of social language (a hidden curriculum of what you do or say and do not do or say in social situations) and emotional intelligence (the ability to correctly recognize what emotions they are feeling and regulate them effectively) will be hindered.
Be aware of the moods and anxieties that your child experiences through open and understanding communication. If your child doesn’t feel comfortable talking about social problems or emotions with you, it might be wise to seek a professional counselor or family friend—basically someone you trust to give advice and guidance to your child other than his or her peers and friends who are also searching for meaning to their emotions and social anxieties.
The best scenario is to have a trusting and open relationship in which your children will open up about their issues with you. Remember, these issues can seem monumental to adolescents due to the faster-maturing emotional center of their brains.
The ultimate goal of speech and language development is for children to understand and embrace God’s way of life. It is important to remember why we are focusing so much on speech and language in our children. God designed our brains and our development with a remarkable emphasis on communication.
The goal is to help children develop and use that communication within the confines of the law of God. This will affect how they live (Luke 4:4) and speak (Colossians 4:6).
This is the second of a two part series on Helping Your Children Develop Speech and Language Skills. For part 1 in this series, see the article on “The Early Years.”
To learn more about parenting, read our article on “Parenting Advice.”